Special report by ITV Channel's Gary Burgess
Children in Jersey's care homes are at risk of exploitation, including sexual grooming, according to experts. It comes in the week an independent report revealed multiple failings within the system and the scale of incidents of children running away. Among those going missing, a 12-year-old child, while another child went missing 47 times during the course of a year. In one home alone in 2020, there were 143 missing children incidents.
It's very easy for the people to groom them and coax them using promises of love and affection, money, things that they don't have, drugs and alcohol sometimes.
The Jersey Care Commission is the independent inspector of Jersey's children's homes. When asked by ITV News if children in such homes are being failed, the commission's chief said: "I think there's some distance to travel to give us assurance that's where it needs to be."
It certainly would be apparent to us that the standards aren't being met consistently or in a sustained fashion, there's no doubt about that. A lot of our intervention when we receive these missing person reports we will lift the phone and speak to the care manager.
We spoke to 'Sarah' who lived in a care home from the age of 12.
I didn't like it. You feel like you're always getting targeted. You don't have much privacy. I just didn't like it there. There were always people shouting and you couldn't sleep cause there were so many kids there. As soon as I went in there I started drinking, doing drugs, I didn't care. Hanging out with older people and drinking with them at a young age.
She says her life is now "so much better" since she left a children's home and moved into foster care. April Langlois, who was in foster care as a child and then a homeless shelter for young people, now advocates for others in that situation. She believes part of the problem is seeing these youngsters as problem kids rather than vulnerable ones.
Rather than just taking them back from where they went missing, actually sit down and ask them before you've even moved from the area that you're in and say are you okay, so you need some support right now, we're here for you. And not placing that judgement. Just listen more to what children and young people want. They may not know what they want today or tomorrow but keep listening to them and keep asking them that question and keep giving them the love and attention that they need cause every child deserves to be loved.
Jersey's Children, Young People, Education and Skills department says the issue affects thousands of children and young people across the UK and "no jurisdiction, town, village is free from this scourge".
Identification, however, isn’t easy. Perpetrators are sophisticated in their grooming and manipulation of children and young people. Victims don’t always realise that this is happening to them; or they are controlled and intimidated, making them fearful for themselves and their families and friends.
If you would like any information, support or to learn about what to look out for to help protect your child, visit: Child Sexual Exploitation: A guide for Parents and Carers leaflet.
Alternatively, if you are worried about a child or young person, speak with someone at your child's school or:
Call Jersey Police on 01534 612612
Call the Children and Families Hub on 01534 519000
The Chief Minister, Senator John le Fondre, is currently also acting as the Children's Minister. In a lengthy statement to ITV News he said action is already being taken.
“I would like to thank the Jersey Care Commission for the Overview Report of Children’s Care Homes 2020. The publication of these inspection findings provides the Government with independent assurance about the quality, safety and effectiveness of residential care for children and young people in Jersey. I will ensure that all the areas for improvement identified from the Commission’s inspections of homes will be progressed as a matter of priority.
“In reducing the frequency of missing from care episodes, I will ensure that the Government works closely with those other partners, especially the Police and Probation services, to ensure that children and young people experience the best possible support to address their often complex needs.
“The independent regulation and inspection of residential provision for children and young people in Jersey is one of the key checks and balances in any modern system of scrutiny of care and this is why it was a key recommendation of the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry. The Jersey Care Commission provides essential, valued and objective evaluations over time that the Government welcomes.
“Safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children is a key expectation and responsibility of society and the fulfilment of this responsibility rightly falls to Government. To achieve consistently the highest standards of care requires sustained and effective joint working between agencies and professionals, both in and beyond Government.
“It is encouraging that the report also notes that the views of the young people using the care home services overall reflected high levels of satisfaction with the care received. But we recognise that there is room for improvement.
“The Overview Report therefore identifies effective practice as well as areas for development and its balanced and insightful findings will ensure that we can build further on what is being done well and address and improve those elements of our care that need attention with pinpoint accuracy.
“Action has already been taken – and continues to be taken - to address concerns about children and young people who have been missing from care overnight and repeatedly. For example, officials in the Department for Children, Young People, Education and Skills have been working closely with the States of Jersey Police to improve the Missing from Care Guidance. In addition, a Missing from Care Co-ordinator is to be appointed and the training offered to residential staff will be reviewed to ensure that it keeps up with complexity of need of the children and young people living in our residential homes. Safety plans for young people going missing are also being reviewed to ensure that all that is possible is being done to keep children safe.
“This is a complex area of responsibility and it is well understood that children run away for a variety of reasons. It is also understood that, whatever the reason, running away is often a sign that something is wrong and that going missing is a symptom of the life challenges that they are facing. I know that our residential teams work hard every day to give children and young people the security and care that they need to address their needs and the challenges that can arise from trauma and other adverse experiences. This report will help the Government and its partners further in developing their practice. Crucially, this shared endeavour will continue to include asking children themselves what works for them.
“Finally, I have also assured the Care Commission that all staff have an updated enhanced DBS check in place and we will work to continue to improve staff recruitment records and to strengthen the role of the independent person as recommended in the report whilst ensuring that their independence is maintained.”